On the outside, the new Blackberry Torch looks exactly the same as its predecessor. On the inside there have been changes, like speed, but SEAN BACHER asks if this is enough.
Research in Motion (RIM) has had its ups and downs with the various BlackBerry models. For example, just last year, it released the BlackBerry Bold 9900, with poor battery life and an unstable phone. Before that, though, it produced the original BlackBerry 9800 Torch, arguably one of the best smartphones it has ever made. (Gadget Editor-in-chief Arthur Goldstuck swears by this model and is always eager to return to it after testing another brand or model).
Late last year RIM announced a new Torch, the 9810, which uses the new BlackBerry 7 OS and a faster CPU.
Will this be a phone that can live up to its predecessor’s expectations? A phone that Arthur won’t be too eager to give up in order to return to his older, worn out BlackBerry Torch? We put it through the Gadget Ten Task Test to find out.
1. General look and feel (aesthetic judgement, differentiation in look and feel)
The BlackBerry Torch 9810 feels the same as the older 9800. It allows users to control it via the slide-out keyboard, touch screen or optical trackpad. Its dimensions are exactly the same and, if it were not for the silver shell, it would be very difficult to tell the old from the new.
The mini USB/charging port, headphone jack, Power, Volume and Camera buttons are all located in the same place as on the BlackBerry Torch 9800.
It is a little disappointing that RIM did nothing to streamline the new BlackBerry Torch further, but for a phone with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, it is still an elegant option.
2. Slippability (Weight and size, ability to slip into a pocket unnoticed)
Weighing 161 grams, and measuring 111X62X14.6mm, the BlackBerry Torch 9810 is by no means a slim phone.
Its large dimensions make it difficult to slip into your pants pocket. I often found myself jamming it into my pocket, only to realise I had inadvertently unlocked it by pushing the unlock button at the top of the phone or by sliding the keypad out. This has led to a lot of unwanted calls at inappropriate times.
The BlackBerry Torch will fit well in a handbag, and doesn’t fit too badly in a front shirt pocket ‚ although its weight may end up making your shirt look a bit lopsided.
Overall, RIM should have made the phone slimmer ‚ it is more than double the thickness of the Motorola Razr!
3. General performance (speed, responsiveness, multi-tasking)
The new BlackBerry Torch starts to show its true colours when it comes to speed. Yes it may look exactly the same as the older Torch, but it is an entirely different story when comparing the specifications.
The BlackBerry Torch 9810 uses a 1.2GHz processor, double the speed of the original Torch. It also includes 768MB of RAM instead of the 512MB on the former. This means that scrolling is far smoother and applications launch and close far quicker than before.
The processor and RAM upgrades also allow for a much easier, more seamless multitasking experience. Switching between apps doesn’t take much time, although a general loss in speed will be noticed as more applications are opened ‚ especially when switching between games.
That said, the BlackBerry Torch 9810 did have a few go-slow moments, where it looked like it had frozen, but was just thinking really hard and carried on as normal after a couple of seconds.
The BlackBerry 7 OS also seems to work more efficiently on the Torch 9810. Unlike the Bold 9900, which uses the same OS, same processor and same amount of RAM, the Torch seems to handle these resources and the OS with much less of a hassle. It is almost as if the BlackBerry 7 OS was designed specifically for the Torch and as if all other new RIM handsets should get a BlackBerry OS version of their own.
Despite the phone’s slow moments, the device, OS, RAM and CPU all come together very well to provide a fast, responsive and stable phone.
4. Life as we know it (How’s the battery life?)
Battery life has never been one of BlackBerry’s strong points. The BlackBerry Bold 9900’s battery barely lasted a day and, on some days, the battery indicator would not even give a true reading of how much operating time was left.
There is, however, a vast improvement with the BlackBerry Torch. I set it to connect to both 3G and 2G networks and was able to get eight hours of heavy usage out of it. Setting it to 2G-only more than doubles its battery life.
Yes, connecting to a 2G network means much slower data transfer speeds, but this barely comes into play when sending and receiving BBMs, e-mails and Tweets.
If you are preparing for a serious session of Internet browsing, such as streaming a YouTube video, connecting to a 3G network does make all the difference, and all you need to do is change the settings. This may sound like a work-around but, thanks to the touch screen, it takes no more than five taps to switch between networks.
The only proviso is that some apps drain battery power rapidly, even when open only in the background. Such app-demand is unpredictable, and will vary according to the apps you prefer to use.
The BlackBerry Torch 9810 uses a Li-Ion 1 270 mAh battery, which RIM says will give you a talk time of up to five hours when connected to a 3G network, and just over six when on a 2G network. Strangely, it is a step back from the Torch 9800’s 1 300 mAh battery, but still an improvement over the Bold 9900’s 1 230 mAh battery.
5. Vision of the future (picture, video and browsing quality)
The BlackBerry Torch 9810’s browser is fluid and displays most web pages clearly and accurately. It offers a pinch-to-zoom option and the ability to open multiple tabs , which are easy to scroll through.
The 5MP camera offers a maximum resolution of 2592X1944 pixels and features autofocus and face detection – but is exactly the same as that on the BlackBerry 9800. This is not a bad thing, as the picture quality is great and the dedicated hardware button makes launching the camera app quick and easy. I would have liked to see a pinch-to-zoom function here too, as I found zooming in and out too finicky.
The BlackBerry 9810 Torch offers a 3.2‚ 16 million colour Thin Film Transistor (TFT) capacitive touch screen with a resolution of 480X640 pixels at 250 pixels per inch. It’s an improvement over the previous Torch, but it is no match for a phone like the iPhone 4S with its Retina Display.
Overall, the BlackBerry Torch is almost average here, although an improvement on previous BlackBerry devices. There are no ‚Wow!‚ features, but at the same time the phone does not underachieve in any of these areas.
6. Talk to me (quality of audio)
The loudspeaker included with the BlackBerry Torch is good enough for phone conversations, but is not designed to rock your world with your favourite tunes. A headphone jack is also included. The speaker-phone function is effective, but beware the mute button while making a call ‚ thanks to your ear on the touch-screen, you may suddenly find yourself dead to the world in mid-conversation.
7. Message in a bottle (range, speed and efficiency of messaging solutions)
Messaging, or more to the point, handling e-mail and BBM, is the reason many people buy a BlackBerry handset. Should you decide to buy the BlackBerry Torch for those reasons, you will not be disappointed.
I have yet to find a phone that comes even close to BlackBerry for delivering, receiving and responding to e-mails. This, combined with the full QWERTY keyboard, is a perfect match for the active e-mailer.
There are a few apps available that try to compete with BlackBerry Messenger, such as WhatsApp, but none of them come close to its reliability and ease of use. A new feature included with the BlackBerry OS 7 is BBM Connected Apps. This feature gives you the option to share apps with your BBM contacts and the ability to chat within the BBM Connected Apps, creating an ecosystem around the BBM service.
Right now, the messaging services on the BlackBerry cannot be rivalled.
8. Keep control (How effective are hardware and software controls?)
The buttons are all within easy reach with one hand. The touch screen means you don’t need to slide the keyboard out ever time you want to use the phone, but the virtual keyboard that pops up when you want to type a message is a bit cluttered, making hard work of something that is easy on the physical keyboard.
The phone Lock button is a little too easy to press when in a pocket and I would have liked to see it located somewhere where there is less chance of it being accidentally pressed.
9. The new new (innovations, unique features)
All the features located on the BlackBerry Torch 9810 are available on its predecessors. Besides a faster, more stable phone, RIM has brought nothing new to the table in the way of innovation.
10. The wallet test (Is it competitively priced?)
The BlackBerry Torch 9810 carries a retail price of around R5 000, considerably less than other top-end smartphones that offer similar features. But, it is still a lot to pay for a smartphone and as such, a little shopping around is required.
Total score: 74/100
I once heard someone say that, in order to fully appreciate a BlackBerry, you have to have the need to communicate a lot via e-mail. This is the prime purpose of the BlackBerry Torch 9810. Yes, it does offer a range of multimedia capabilities, but if you bought the phone purely for those, you would be disappointed. If e-mail and BBM are your prime purpose, though, it is a messaging dream and you could probably eliminate several of the low-scoring elements and increase the overall score substantially.
* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher
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The zoom on camera – use the trackpad, much easier than a pinch/zoom could be. And the mute on calls; I’ve never experienced that. In fact, I seem to remember that it’s got a proximity sensor to prevent that.
I had a couple of issues with the phone freezing for a bit, and eventually I tracked down the culprit: wi-fi sync. Hasn’t done it since I turned that off.
One thing I really appreciate is the audio quality. I’ve had an iPod Touch and an iPhone 3GS to compare to, and the Apple devices (surprisingly) sound thin and tinny by comparison.”,”body-href”:””}]
Amazfit Bip – An unassuming smartwatch competitor
The Amazfit Bip has everything a smartwatch needs: notifications, heart rate monitoring and a month-long battery life, writes BRYAN TURNER.
The Amazfit Bip is one of the most appealing devices in the smartwatch lineup from Huami, a low-cost brand backed by Xiaomi.
Coming in at around R1500 depending on where you shop, the price point puts the Bip into the budget smartwatch space. Combined with a large set of offerings, it makes one wonder: “Why aren’t more smartwatches like this?”
Aesthetically, the rectangular face is similar to the Apple Watch but, on closer inspection, is more reminiscent of the Pebble Time smartwatch. Ergonomically, the Bip has a single button which mostly acts as an unlock button and a back button in menus. The watch strap is made of hypoallergenic silicone and is replaceable.
The Bip has an always-on transflective colour screen with a backlight for darker situations. This kind of display is very similar to a 90’s Gameboy, and happens to be quite the power saver. The display is covered with 2.5D curved Corning Gorilla glass with an anti-fingerprint coating, giving that extra bit of knock resistance.
The unit is 18 grams without the strap and 32 with it on, making for an extremely light smartwatch that’s roughly half the weight of the Apple Watch. While the Bip is rated IP68 in terms of waterproofing and dustproofing (meaning it can withstand 30 minutes of being under 1.5 meters of water), Huami’s website says that it should not be used while swimming, diving or bathing, and should not be taken into a sauna. When the Bip we used got dirty from rock climbing, it was washed with a soap-free cleanser (as Fitbit recommends) and a soft-bristled toothbrush.
The number of sensors in the Bip is astonishing: heart rate sensor, accelerometer, geomagnetic sensor, barometer, and GPS. This sensor set is usually reserved for the premium smartwatch market but budget Bip packs all of these. Most interestingly, the geomagnetic sensor allows for compass readings (as well as assisting the GPS in locating the watch while it’s moving) and the barometer for measuring elevation by detecting changes in pressure.
Battery life has been optimised to a month of regular use, with some reports measuring up to 45-days with the heart rate sensor off. Huami claims the smartwatch can last for 4 months with only step and sleep tracking on. The 190mAh battery was run down in 28 hours with the GPS, barometer and heart rate sensor set to permanently on.
The built-in software is basic and lacks app support but redeems itself in other areas. Firstly, the customisation of watch faces is limited but can be easily changed with a third party app. Notifications are handled well, available for viewing only, and require the phone for replying or other interactions.
The menu options become available with a swipe left, notification settings with a swipe down, past notifications with a swipe up and the weather with a swipe right. The menu has options for checking one’s current status (steps, heart rate, distance, calories), followed by quick activity tracking (running, cycling, walking weather (a five-day forecast with icons), alarms, timers, compass and settings.
The companion app, Mi Fit, is well-designed and syncs quickly with the Bip. Mi Fit is where the watch and sync settings can be fine-tuned. Mi Fit also gives very detailed sleep analytics, including showing how much time one spent sleeping compared to other Mi Fit users.
Overall, the Bip is an attractive smartwatch for those who are looking to purchase a device that provides value for money while being highly-functional.
Samsung A51: Saviour of the mid-range
For a few years, Samsung has delivered some less than favourable mid-range devices compared to the competition. The Galaxy A51 is here to change all that, writes BRYAN TURNER.
It’s not often one can look at a mid-range phone and mistake it for a flagship. That’s what you can expect to experience when taking the Galaxy A51 out into the open.
Samsung went back to the drawing board with its new range of devices, and it shows. The latest Galaxy A range features some of the highest quality, budget-friendly devices we’ve seen so far. The Samsung Galaxy A51 is one of the best phones we’ve seen in a while, not just aesthetically, but in what it packs into a sub-R7000 price tag.
Looking at the device briefly, it’s very easy to mistake it for a flagship. It features a four-camera array on the back, and an Infinity-O punch-hole display – both of which are features of the high-end Samsung devices. In fact, it features a similar camera array as the Galaxy Note10 Lite but features an additional lens in the array. The cameras line up in an L-shape, clearly avoiding looking like a stovetop.
Apart from the camera array, the back of the handset features a striking pattern called Prism Crush, a pattern of pastel shades that come in black, white, blue, and pink. For the review, we used the Prism Crush Blue colour and it looks really great. The feel is clearly plastic, which isn’t too surprising for a mid-range device, but the design is definitely something that will make users opt for a clear case. It’s also great to see a design pattern that deviates from the standard single iridescent colours many manufacturers have copied from Huawei’s design.
Along the sides, it features a metal-like frame, but again, it’s plastic. On the left side, we find a SIM and microSD card tray while the right side houses the power button and volume rocker. The bottom of the phone features a very welcome USB Type-C port and a 3.5mm headphone jack, which isn’t too uncommon for mid-range phones.
On the front, the device is pretty much all screen, at an 87.4% screen-to-body ratio, thanks to a tiny chin at the bottom and the small punch hole for the camera. The earpiece has also been hidden inside the frame in attempts to maximise this screen-to-body ratio. When powered on, the 6.5-inch display looks vivid and sharp. That’s because Samsung opted to put a Super AMOLED display into this midrange unit, giving it a resolution of 1080 x 2400 (at 405 ppi) in a 20:9 format. This makes the display FullHD+, and perfect for consuming video content like Netflix and YouTube in HD.
Hidden underneath the display is an in-screen fingerprint sensor, which is very surprising to find in a mid-range device. While it is extremely accurate, it takes some getting used to because the sensor is so large that one needs to put one’s entire finger over the right part of the display to unlock it. Most other types of non-in-screen fingerprint sensors don’t mind a partial fingerprint. The display itself feels nothing like the back and that’s because it’s not plastic, but rather Gorilla Glass 3, to prevent the screen from shattering easily.
What’s interesting about this device is finding accessories which aren’t quite available in phone stores yet. When browsing online for screen protectors, one has to be on the lookout for screen protectors that are compatible with the in-screen fingerprint sensor. Make sure to check out the reviews of users before purchasing them.
In terms of software, Samsung has made a great deal of effort to make the experience slick. Gone are the days of TouchWiz (thank goodness) and now we have OneUI in its second version. OneUI makes the phone easier to use by putting most of the interaction on the bottom half of the screen and most of the view on the top part of the screen, where one’s thumbs don’t usually reach.
Out of the box, the device came with Android 10. This is a huge step forward in terms of commitment to running the latest software for major feature updates as well as for Android security patches to keep the device secure.
It also has most of the cool features from the flagship devices, like Samsung Pay, Bixby, and Link to Windows. Samsung Pay is an absolute pleasure to use, even if it still confuses the person taking your payments. From linking my cards, I have stopped taking my wallet out with me because all merchants that accept tap-to-pay will accept Samsung Pay on the A51.
Bixby is useful if you’re in the Samsung app ecosystem, especially for owners of SmartThings devices like Samsung TVs and SmartThings-enabled smart home devices. Otherwise, Google Assistant is still accessible for those who still want to use the standard Google experience.
Link to Windows is an interesting feature that started with the Galaxy Note10 and has since trickled down into the mid-range. It allows users to send SMS messages, view recently taken photos, and receive notifications from the phone, all on a Windows 10 PC. This can be enabled by going to the Your Phone app found in the start menu.
The rear camera is phenomenal for a mid-range device and features a 48MP wide sensor. The photos come out as 12MP images, which is a common trick of many manufacturers to achieve high-quality photography. It does this by combining 4 pixels into a single superpixel to get the best colours out of the picture, while still remaining sharp. It also performs surprisingly well in low light, which is not something we were expecting from a mid-range device.
The 12MP ultra-wide angle lens spans 123-degrees, which is very wide and also useful for getting shots in where one can’t move back further. It’s not as great as the main lens but does the trick for getting everyone in for a group photo in a galley kitchen.
The 5MP depth-sensing lens supplements the portrait mode, which adds a blur effect to the background of the photo – the same lens as its predecessor, the Galaxy A50. It features a 32MP wide-angle selfie camera, which is perfect for fitting everyone into a large group selfie.
The processor is an Exynos 9611, which is an Octa-core processor. It performs well in most situations, and there is software built in to give games a boost, so it performs well with graphically intensive games too. In terms of RAM, there are 4GB, 6GB, and 8GB variants, so keep an eye out for which one you are trying. For the review, we had the 4GB, and it performs well with multitasking and day-to-day tasks.
For storage, it comes in a 128GB model on Samsung’s website, which seems to be the standard size. This is extremely welcome in the mid-range segment and is the largest we’ve seen for internal storage capacity as a starting point.
At a recommended selling price of R6,999, the Samsung Galaxy A51 marks the beginning of a great era for Samsung, because it provides a feature-rich handset at an affordable price.